Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe
Banning Eyre is a freelance writer and guitarist and the senior editor and producer of the public radio program Afropop Worldwide. He is the author of In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali, Playing With Fire: Fear and Self-Censorship in Zimbabwean Music, and Guitar Atlas: Africa, and the coauthor of AFROPOP! An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music. Eyre is a contributor to National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and his writing has been published in Billboard, Guitar Player, Salon.com, the Boston Phoenix, CMJ, Option, Folk Roots, Global Rhythm, and other publications. He has also performed and recorded with Thomas Mapfumo.
Songs for the Book of History
This chapter documents Mapfumo’s shift to creating songs drawing on Zimbabwean traditional music—including mbira—and with lyrics that comment on the situation in the country as the liberation struggle reaches its violent crescendo. Moving from the Mhangura mine to Salisbury (Harare), and, briefly, Mutare, Mapfumo works through a series of bands, ultimately finding real success as singer and principal songwriter for the Acid Band. The chapter deconstructs key songs that established Mapfumo as a major cultural figure—both a pioneer in the rehabilitation of long-stigmatized traditional music and a rare popular artist brave enough to engage the combative politics of this era. In “Pamuromo Chete (It’s Mere Talk),” Mapfumo offers a defiant response to the confident proclamations of President Ian Smith. The chapter ends with the 1978 establishment of the Blacks Unlimited, with legendary guitarist Jonah Sithole at Mapfumo’s side.